Quebrada de Humahuaca (Humahuaca gorge) in Jujuy province is one of the most spectacular tourist attractions Argentina has to offer, with a rich blend of inspiring natural wonders and pre-Incan cultural heritage. Declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2003, Quebrada de Humahuaca is a must see stop on any South America itinerary.
One of the most important towns in this area is Humahuaca, which has risen in popularity among backpackers that choose it as a base to explore Jujuy.
Humahuaca holds a special place in my heart. My father is humahuaqueño and I have fond memories of our family holidays there. This year I was lucky to visit again after more than 15 years. Interestingly enough, not much has changed in this charming town. Walking along its cobbled streets and seeing its rustic adobe houses took me back to my childhood days. Not a lot of tourist attractions can retain their identity and authenticity yet Humahuaca is certainly an exception.
During this trip, we took travel notes and gathered insider tips from locals to put together an essential travel guide to help you plan your visit.
Top things to do in Humahuaca
#1 WALK AROUND THE HISTORIC TOWN CENTRE
One of the great things about Humahuaca is that you can navigate the historic centre by foot within an hour or so. Here are the iconic landmarks that you can’t leave without seeing:
Built in Spanish colonial style with moorish accents, the building now houses the town hall. At 12pm every day, a statue of San Francisco Solano makes an appearance accompanied by a rendition of Ave Maria to give his blessing. It’s fun to watch locals and tourists alike gather around the square to capture that short moment on camera.
Iglesia de la Candelaria y San Antonio
This is the oldest building in town, dating back to 1631 (although it has been through a few renovations since then). Inside you will find a series of exquisite baroque-style paintings that were brought from Cusco in 1764. Unfortunately we were told to put away our cameras inside the church.
Heroes of the Independence Monument
This giant sculpture is a homage to the indigenous soldiers that fought in Argentina’s wars of independence. Climb up the cobbled steps to see the whole town from above. Behind it, we noticed a local cemetery with interesting tomb designs decorated with rather cheerful flowers.
#2 ENJOY PANORAMIC VIEWS OF HUMAHUACA FROM PEÑAS BLANCAS
Peñas Blancas is a white rock hill that can be climbed easily for great panoramic views of Quebrada de Humahuaca and its surroundings. To get there, you can choose to walk for about 25-30 minutes or take a short taxi ride that should cost you no more than $2 USD.
#3 TAKE A HALF-DAY TRIP TO EL HORNOCAL “MOUNTAIN OF 14 COLOURS”
Humahuaca makes the perfect start point to visit one of the most fascinating sights in South America. El Hornocal or “Mountain of 14 colours” showcases bands of multicolored limestone formations on an enormous scale, almost 5000 meters above sea level. An absolute must see when in Northern Argentina!
You can hire a private car or shared minivan on the spot from the bridge located between Coronel Arias street and Salta street. It is a 45min ride on a gravel road to El Hornocal. The whole excursion will probably be 3-4 hours in total. We had a great experience with our driver Mr. Ignacio – Whatsapp (+54) 0388 4421 659 (Limited English)
#4 HIKE THROUGH THE IMPRESSIVE RED MOUNTAINS OF UQUIA
Just a 15 minute bus ride north of Humahuaca is the quaint town of Uquia. Check out the handicraft market (famous for its ceramic ware), visit the historic 17th century church and then go on a hike through the bright red mountains called “Quebrada de las Señoritas”. It makes for a perfect afternoon outing. Oh, if you visit during lunch time, we recommend stopping by Comedor Lidia – winner of the regional competition for best tamales!
National route 9 (10km from Humahuaca)
#5 BUY HANDMADE LLAMA WOOL ITEMS AT MANOS ANDINAS
We noticed that most shops offer factory-made synthetic wool items disguised as llama wool. In search of warm garments, we found Manos Andinas, a fair-trade shop that sells authentic llama wool items made by women from rural communities near Humahuaca. They have a beautiful array of gloves, scards, socks, beanies, shawls and much more. Impossible to leave empty-handed!
Corner of Cordoba and Buenos Aires street (right opposite the main square)
#6 ENJOY ANDEAN MUSIC AT A LOCAL PEÑA
Humahuaca has a rich musical heritage and over the years has produced a number of world-class folklore musicians. There are many restaurants and bars that offer live shows showcasing the instruments and tunes of the Andes. Some recommended ones are La Peña de Fortunato Ramos and Aisito. Unfortunately for us early birds, most peñas kick off after 10pm so we were only managed to gather energy to stay up once.
#7 USE IT AS A BASE TO EXPLORE QUEBRADA DE HUMAHUACA
Humahuaca is very well connected to other towns and major sightseeing spots in the Quebrada, which is why many tourists like to use it as a base to venture out on day trips.
Some of the most popular day trips from Humahuaca:
Purmamarca – Home to the beautiful “Cerro de los Siete Colores” (Mountain of Seven Colours) – an absolute must see in Jujuy. On the same day, we arranged a tour from Purmamarca to Salinas Grandes (Salt Flats), which was the perfect training ground before Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia.
Tilcara – Neighbouring town full of hipster cafes, restaurants and the famous archeological site “Pucara de Tilcara”. It is definitely the busiest and “coolest” town in the Quebrada.
Tres Cruces – Hike up to “Puente del Diablo”, a natural bridge at 4100m above sea level, perfect for hiking lovers! Since it’s not very well known to tourists, we had the trails for ourselves. We opted to rent a private car, but there are also tour operators offering full day treks.
Iruya – Remote little village in the middle of the mountains. Technically in Salta province, however it can only be accessed from Jujuy province.
Where to eat in Humahuaca
During our 2-week stay, we tried many places but these are our favourites. Wherever you choose to eat, don’t forget to try the stample northern Argentina-style empanadas, quinoa soup and locro!
For lunch, we found Menú del Día (Set Lunch) to be the most economical and filling option. These are two of the restaurants we kept coming back to:
Tejerina | Super affordable “Menú del Día” that consists of main dish + soup. This place is where the locals go to mingle.
Av. Basilio Alvarez 346
El Cabildo | Local delicacies, humitas, tamales. Their soups are delicious!
Santiago del Estero 31
For dinner, you must try the pizza at El Gato at least once! Probably one of our favourite meals – paired with beer, it makes the perfect meal after a long day.
El Gato | Oven-baked pizza with lots of cheese on top.
Address: Corrientes 326
On some days, we preferred to buy fresh fruit and vegetables to give our stomachs a break. We found that Mercado Municipal de Humahuaca (corner of Tucumán and Av. Belgrano) had the best produce at affordable prices.
Where to stay in Humahuaca
Given Humahuaca’s rising popularity, there’s a decent amount of accommodation options to choose from. Some recommended ones are:
Browse all Humahuaca hotels here (Booking.com)
Moving to/from and around Humahuaca
GETTING TO HUMAHUACA
Arriving to Humahuaca from San Salvador de Jujuy
If you fly from Buenos Aires to Jujuy province, you will arrive to the province’s capital: San Salvador de Jujuy. From there, I recommend taking a direct bus to Humahuaca. Some popular bus companies are Jama Bus, Evelia and Santa Ana Cotta Norte. Services depart hourly and operate every day. The journey takes approximately 2 hours and cost on average $4 – $5 USD one way.
Arriving to Humahuaca from Salta
There’s plenty of buses that connect Salta with Quebrada de Humahuaca (with stops in Tilcara and Humahuaca). Some companies that we’ve used and can recommend are Balut, Flecha Bus and Andesmar. The journey takes around 4.5 hours.
TRAVELLING FROM HUMAHUACA TO OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
To get to other towns in the Quebrada like Uquia, Tilcara and Purmamarca, go to the main bus station where you will find plenty of options. We were glad to see that the bus system here is efficient, safe and punctual. For long distance trips (i.e. Salta, Iruya), you may want to purchase the tickets one day in advance to ensure availability and quality. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to travel between Tilcara, Purmamarca and Humahuaca without too much pre-planning – just arrive to the bus station 15min-30min earlier to purchase your tickets.
Bus Distances & average prices
Humahuaca to Purmamarca: 1.5 hours – $65 pesos per person
Humahuaca to Uquia: 20min – $16 pesos per person
Humahuaca to Salta: 5 hours – $300 pesos per person
*prices as of August 2018
Many tourists opt to rent a car on their own and stop off at the various towns in the Quebrada de Humahuaca. You’ll find major rental companies in Salta and San Salvador de Jujuy (capital city of Jujuy Province), such as Hertz, Europcar and Avis. Note that car pick up and drop-off will be from these two cities only.
All the towns in Quebrada de Humahuaca are well connected by bus so in our experience it turned out to be more efficient (in terms of time and cost) to set up a base in Humahuaca and move around using public transportation, rather than renting a car. Also, some places are hard to navigate without directions from locals so another alternative would be to arrange a private driver via your hotel.
More essential info & tips
Best time to visit
The most popular time to visit Quebrada de Humahuaca is during the austral summer and fall (January – June). February is particularly popular for the “Carnaval”, which is a huge celebration with traditional dances, food and traditional drinks. Another popular time to visit during the off-season is August, when locals perform Andean rituals to thank Pachamama or Mother Earth. We actually visited during August and were lucky to witness these traditional celebrations. We saw many foreign tourists joining the festivities around town, dancing and drinking.
During August-September, we found that the weather is extremely favorable – you’ll be guaranteed clear blue skies every day! Plus prices are more reasonable too given lower demand.
What to pack
Humahuaca’s climate is a desert one. There is virtually no rainfall during the year (yay!). However, even during summer months, temperatures can drop dramatically in the evening so don’t forget to pack a warm jacket. If there’s one item you must bring with you is a good quality down jacket that is lightweight and foldable like these ones.
Preparing for the altitude
Humahuaca is located up in the mountains at 3000 meters above sea level. Although we were very lucky not to experience severe effects of the altitude sickness, at the first sign of headache, lack of breath or fatigue, I suggest you drink coca tea or chew coca leaves, which are all easily available. If you want to play it safe, bring altitude sickness pills with you.
My one and only tip for you is: BRING CASH (preferably US dollars)! Don’t rely on cashing out money from ATMs as you won’t get a fair exchange rate plus you may get charged unnecessary withdrawal fees.
If you need to exchange money, I suggest you arrange via your hotel. They might do it for you or recommend a trusted source. Unfortunately there are no official money exchange bureaus in Humahuaca (as of 2018) so it is done informally.
Hope you enjoyed this travel guide and found it useful! If you have any questions, please leave me a comment 🙂
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